Ankara's Kabul Airport plan finally shelved

If Afghanistan is not Turkey or the other way around, is the Justice and Development Party (AKP) not Turkey’s or Europe’s or NATO’s Taliban? Absolute non-sense or sheer provocation many would exclaim.

Shooting from the hip, I had guessed in my last GazeteDuvar (our sister edition in Turkish) column that perhaps some holdovers from the Northern Alliance banding together with some newcomers with deep roots in their fiefdoms would be able to make a last grand stand against the onslaught of the Taliban in Jalalabad in the East and Kabul. That somewhat wishful prediction did not even survive 24 hours as Jalalabad too rapidly fell. Now, Kabul is no more than a low hanging fruit and it seems highly probable that it will not even survive until the 20th anniversary of 9/11.      

Why should we care, having our plate down here already full with natural catastrophes like raging wildfires and deadly flash floods, as well as with across the border ongoing military operations in Syria and Iraq, and overseas force projections in Libya, Qatar and even Somalia. By the way and for the record, the same government which chose not come up with 4.5 million USD for the maintenance of the firefighting aircraft to keep them in air, granted 30 million USD to Somalia. And also by the way and for the record in the human enhanced flood devastated Bozkurt district in the Black Sea coast, the ruling coalition’s percentage of vote in the last elections is a staggering 95%.

The unaccountability and to some the invulnerability (a.k.a. “the Teflon syndrome”) of the government in all their policy decisions notwithstanding, the almost brutal truth is that nobody really knows why Ankara still intent till the last hour on taking over the security and the management of Kabul International Airport. No one can credibly relay what has been agreed upon in Brussels between Presidents Erdoğan and Biden as there was no one in the room while they were having their 45 minutes long tête-a-tête. Despite the vehement official US denials, many believe that there can be no coincidence about the sudden arrival of the hordes of young military service aged male Afgan refugees at the Turkey’s Iranian border. The ease and speed with which they pour over that same frontier is preoccupying to say the least for most.

It is also true that the government is short in coming up with a convincing explanation of the reasons for being right now at the frontline in Afghanistan. Maybe the momentum that brought Taliban already inside Kabul, as I write these already not aging well lines, will halt these absurd negotiations in their tracks. A mental exercise to that end can provide us only bits of a superficial diagnosis: “Folie de grandeur”, “ambiance fin de regne”, a suggested role in taking part in a fully imaginary Great Game redux in Central Asia following in the accursed footsteps of Enver Pasha who was gunned down by the Bolsheviks in those forlorn steppes of what is today Tajikistan in 1922, a belief that Afghanistan sits atop world’s most precious mines, a suggested kinship with the Taliban and such like. But to try and team up with Pakistan and for an umpteenth time in vain with Rashid Dostum? That, I cannot fathom. 

According to the diplomatic anecdote, when young Afghan king of the time Amanullah Han visits Ankara in 1928, he was enthralled by some of young secular republic’s achievements. When he tells Atatürk that he would be willing to emulate the model in his home country, Atatürk wisely warns him, basically, “to not to try this at home – as of yet and as Afghanistan is not Turkey”. To wit, only 43% of the Afghan population is literate even in 2021. But again in our time, and since almost twenty years now, islamists rule that secular republic. Erdoğan overtook Atatürk in uninterrupted leadership longevity. To cite a current example, flood devastated Bozkurt district in a way had invited calamity by voting 95% for the ruling islamist-nationalist coalition of AKP and MHP.

If Afghanistan is not Turkey or the other way around, is the Justice and Development Party (AKP) not Turkey’s or Europe’s or NATO’s Taliban? Absolute non-sense or sheer provocation many would exclaim.

Nevertheless, the audacity of not hope but thought forces us to give the suggestion at least consideration. By the same token, how meaningful to make a difference between the Taliban of 20 years ago and what is now the “Taliban 2.0” that “tolerates” the Shia Hazara and makes good with China, India, Russia and Iran? In February 2021 it was the US itself that sealed the deal with the Taliban, whereas the ISIL was beaten by a resurgent US trained and equipped Iraqi army and with US aerial support. Iraq is not Afghanistan either then. Compared with Iraq, Afghanistan is already relegated to the third league in the global strategic chessboard. Fair enough, but where to draw the line between the so-called “Islamic State” and the “Islamic Emirate” of the Taliban? 

The main lessons learned from the Afghan debacle is that you cannot build a nation from outside in. And that regime change means almost always state collapse. And also that those state wrecks can still stay with us as ghost ships in the ocean for a long time to come. Judging by the lack of a coordinated response following the wildfires and the floods, regime change in Turkey too points at state collapse. In 1999 following the earthquake, it was the collapse of the state apparatus that had ushered in our agonizingly long journey of regime change. Another question is then whether a collapsing state can flex its muscles abroad to avert regime change on its own turf.

By the time I reached this paragraph Taliban entered Kabul in real time, President Ghani handed his resignation, Chinooks busied themselves to ferry the last remaining diplomats out of Kabul, local artists were drawing paintings on the walls by way of peaceful resistance. US intel, which would be presumed to know what they are doing after 20 years on the ground, prediction of the Kabul’s fall in 90 days proved to be wrong by a long stretch. And Taliban asked Turkey to evacuate the airport by September. And President Erdoğan accepted at last the size of the Afghan refugee flow and suggested working with Pakistan to avert it. At the same time Albania and Kosovo made a deal with the U.S. to temporarily house the Afghan refugees. How can the U.S. be trusted as a honest broker anymore in international affairs? What message is perceived by allies and partners like the KRG in Iraq or the YPG in Syria?

To remind ourselves the obvious, while Enver was getting himself killed in early August 1922 in Tajik steppes, by the end of that same month of August 1922 a victorious Mustafa Kemal in the Anatolian heartland was chasing the remnants of the routed occupying Greek army on towards the Aegean coast. Here are many metaphors: One is defending his home, the other is rushing after pipe dreams; one is pushing definitely towards the West while the other to the East, one looks towards the future while the other is stuck in the past. By 1930 Greek PM Venizelos was visiting Ankara and received by Atatürk in a most friendly manner. By 1929 Amanullah Han had left the throne and Afghanistan. The fact that Venizelos had brought a crate of fine Greek wine as a present to his host speaks for itself. To my mind, that would be another metaphor to ponder upon while Afghanistan effectively opts for the stone age hand in hand with Pakistan.

I struggle to come up with a meaningful conclusion as I struggle to not delete all of the above as Kabul falls. Taliban will now sit supreme on top of the 90% production of the “raw materials” of the illicit heroin trade. If then Islamism does not get into international terrorism it will be globally tolerated even it takes a harshest form like that of the Taliban. Will the world be a better place as such, I have serious doubts about that.  


September 13, 2021 The new cold war